Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Don't Go In The Woods" if you are planning to make a bad horror movie.

I have been doing so much thinking about film in the past few weeks --- what makes a film, how to make a film, what to do with a film once it's made etc.

A lot of things are changing.

I just had to review this film by actor Vince D'Onofrio, best known for Law & Order but also "Full Metal Jacket" and "Mystic Pizza" etc.

It was really bad, like he wasn't even trying to make a good film. It's a horror musical and while the acting is terrible but the music is pretty good.

So, after I watched the film, I read up about it and even found an interview with him where he said that the plan was to "make a bad horror movie" where they intentionally cast unknown people who had music and singing experience whether or not they had acting experience. He cast a band that his nephew was friends with, he cast some girls who worked at the coffee shop around the corner from him and he cast a couple of girls who had been extras on Law & Order and they shot in 12 days on his property in upstate New York for $100,000 --- but I have no idea what they spent the money on.
Here is the review that I wrote:

“Don’t Go In The Woods”
David J. Greenberg

Sometimes, not often, there is a film that blurs the lines between being “bad” and being “intentionally bad.” So, out of respect to the esteemed actor Vincent D’Onofrio who is making his feature debut with the horror-musical “Don’t Go In The Woods”, the question is more pronounced. Given his resume that includes his iconic turn in “Full Metal Jacket” as well as critically acclaimed work in “The Whole Wide World” and ten years of “Law & Order” D’Onofrio the actor clearly knows his way around a quality project so it seems odd that he should choose, for his feature debut, to work from a screenplay that is so fundamentally flawed.

The film is about a scruffy New York indie folk-rock band that, on the insistence of the driven, intense leader, Nick, drives out to the woods where he vacationed as a child. The plan is that they will seclude themselves in nature for the weekend, find the inspiration to write a new batch of songs without the distractions of cell phones, drugs, alcohol or girls ---- a method that, historically, is employed for boxers more often than musicians.

Despite some great moments where they really gel as a band, hit their stride and truly play in concert with one another, it is clear that some of them take the situation far more seriously than others. As is so often the case in a band dynamic, the plan inevitably disintegrates but not before every member of the cast gets to sing their heart out in one or more of the numerous musical numbers. The presence of a sledgehammer wielding psychopath in the same woods only complicates matters.

One of the great mysteries of D’Onofrio’s film is that when he could have taken the same actors and made a great slice of New York City life story about a young band struggling to make it, for some reason, he chose to make a slasher film. Move the location to a seedy rehearsal space, lose the crazed killer element make it a story about art, hopes, dreams and the interpersonal dynamics of the band and there is more than enough for a solid film with ample room for his actor-musicians to shine. It is really hard to not think about “Once” when thinking about this film. Heck, it is really, really hard to not think about Tom Hanks directorial debut “That Thing You Do” which also covered a similar struggling band scenario.

The whole piece smacks of artistic experimentation, like D’Onofrio was making a test film and challenging his own notions of what acting is. The clue to this theory is that the film really only ever comes alive during the musical numbers. In general, the songs (written by co-screenwriter Sam Bisbee) are actually pretty catchy, decent takes on the acoustic indie-rock singer-songwriter vibe that would be right at home playing in the background of a scruffy little coffeehouse. That the cast, made up of enthusiastic, fresh faced but character-appropriate-grungy twenty-somethings, is clearly better at performing the music than they are at delivering lines seems to suggest D’Onofrio picked people with some musical skills who might or might not be able to act rather casting actors who have some musical skills. The difference might seem subtle on paper but, in action, it jumps out.

So, it seems like D’Onofrio is going for a degree of Neo-realism here ala Vittorio De Sica, Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” and “Paranoid Park” and last years “Putty Hill.”

In that regard, the experiment pays off to a degree in that, overall, the attractive cast does have an appeal, they really do feel like a social circle plucked off the streets of NYC by someone who wanted to make a film about who they are - fresh, raw and palpably full of spirit, no baggage, giving it their all and probably not for the promise of what, presumably, was not a huge payday. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all especially talented actors.

Sometimes it seems like certain filmmakers are trying to make a point about bad films by going out and making a bad film, almost a sly send up of bad films. So what is this film, a drama with bad acting, a musical without a good story or a horror film without any scares? The whole thing feels as if it is really about D’Onofrio and some friends getting their feet wet, experimenting with film-making in anticipation of more ambitious projects to come. Does that legitimize releasing this film to the public?

I have seen a handful of films over the years where I have asked myself, "What would be more interesting, the film I just watched or a behind-the-scenes "making of" film about the film that I just watched?" Because, since watching "Don't Go In The Woods", I have now seen a number of interviews, behind-the-scenes, live concert footage etc. that was produced in connection with the film, I can easily say that the answer to my question would be the latter.

The whole experience of reviewing this film was so frustrating because, with some work on the script (or a whole new script) it could have easily been a half decent movie. I have written two horror screenplays about kids going out into the woods and both are ten times better than this film.

No, this movie is not getting a huge release, it's playing in one theater in L.A., one theater in NYC and going straight to VOD. Very interesting.

So what does all of this mean for me? Can I, a nobody, throw together a cast/crew of nobodies, run around, shoot a film and throw it up on the internet? Sure, I guess I can. Will anyone see it? I doubt it. Do I know that I have screenplays sitting around that were designed to be shot for little to no money? Sure do! If I go out and make one, will anyone see it? Who knows? Who really knows? A lot of things are changing.